In the book of Genesis, we read, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done” (Genesis 50:20). We all get hurt in this life: we lose family members too soon, financial catastrophes claw their way out of the dark, life plans we had built towards crumble, and when we struggle to be optimistic in the face of it all–trusting in God’s great plan for our lives–it seems more and more hurts tip the scale in the opposite direction. But what a reminder in Genesis: what looks like a wall to us can be a door for God.
And in 2014, God opened a door for Grace. She and her two kids had just moved to the northwest suburbs of Chicago, three-and-a-half years after her divorce. She found herself as a single mom with plenty of questions and few resources. How could she move on? What would others think of her? How could she succeed as a working mom with kids? What happened to what she thought her life was going to be?
Grace began attending Willow South Barrington with her kids and she got plugged into community; God happened to place her in the same section as AnnaMaria, Willow’s small group director. The community that grew out of those who sat in the same section at church did plenty of gatherings outside of services, and to Grace’s surprise she kept meeting more and more single moms just like herself. In talking with those single moms, Grace felt a tugging on her heart. She approached AnnaMaria and said, “Someone should start a group just for single moms.” Little did Grace know the plan God had for her.
It was hard for Grace to pick up the pieces and start all over, but she pushed on. She lived as a single mom and worked through new routines and responsibilities; however, through it all, God kept whispering to her, “Life doesn’t end with being a single mom.”
She didn’t know how she was going to do it, but Grace trusted God’s calling. She contacted AnnaMaria and said, “I’m ready to say ‘yes’ to God’s whisper.” With AnnaMaria’s help, Grace launched Willow’s first small group just for single moms: Brave.
The group started small, and it was a huge sacrifice for Grace who, instead of resting on the weekends when her children were with their father, planned small group activities and get-togethers, but she believed in God’s calling. She further believed He was going to make the withered flowers in her life bloom again.
Over time, Brave grew into the small community it is today. They help each other, share resources, offer encouragement and prayer, and understand each other in a way only they can. In addition, being a single mom can be a scheduling nightmare, but they show each other plenty of grace, meeting when it’s most convenient, and even invite their kids to come and hang out with each other while they meet just across the room.
For Grace, the effort she puts in is worth it. She says, “A mom in our group once said, ‘I was having a really bad day, and I felt so alone, and I didn’t think anyone knew what I was going through–all the struggles and pain–but then I remembered the women in this group.’” That’s what God can do through His people–communities of believers who are there for each other to encourage, guide, and be present.
Even during the pandemic, Brave continued to thrive, gaining four new members. They’ve started an additional group to manage their numbers, so each woman can be part of an intimate connection.
When being asked why Grace continues to give of herself to lead the Brave small group, she was reminded of a story. She said, “On a baptism day at Willow, one of the new single moms in our small group decided to get baptized. I walked with her to the front of the stage, holding her hand as we were both in tears because of the enormity of her decision to follow Christ. The other ladies from our small group were right behind us. In that moment God reminded me that this is what He has called me to do–to walk alongside single moms in their journey and get to know Jesus in a deeper and more personal way.”